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Experienced tramper forgets distress beacon, is rescued by Police, SAR and chopper

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At about 7pm last Saturday night, Police received a mobile phone call from a missing tramper saying she was lost in low cloud in the Borland Saddle area, about a 60km drive from Manapouri, Southland.

Sergeant Dougall Henderson of Invercargill Police Search and Rescue (SAR) says “The tramper, a tourist did have experience of the area but was disoriented after cloud descended around her.”

“Although she was well prepared for a day tramp and was quite experienced, she only had her mobile phone. She had been walking around for several hours before raising the alarm,” he says.

“The irony is, she owns a Distress Beacon (Personal Locator Beacon) and didn’t think she would need it because she knew the area, but as it turns out – she did need it.”

She knows she should have taken a GPS also, as she wasn’t far from where she thought she was, says Dougall.

Richie Hunter, Southern Lakes Helicopters crewperson says “As weather conditions were marginal, police had SAR volunteers onboard for a foot approach if needed. The helicopter got to within 500 metres of the tramper but couldn’t climb any higher due to poor visibility, as she was 1440 metres up the saddle.

“Based on local knowledge, Police knew there was a high drop-off, and she could have fallen. We told her not to descend to the chopper and we did attempt to get her with the chopper from multiple directions, but it was too cloudy and wasn’t safe.”

“We dropped the SAR team on the ground at the Borland Saddle and they walked two hours in to find her at 11.30pm, so she was lucky,” he says.

Richie recommends that people in the outdoors carry a Distress Beacon, such as a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to call for help in an emergency.

“The PLBs are more powerful, accurate and provide a rapid response by emergency services. They are better than the alternative satellite text message devices or SEND (Satellite Emergency Notification Device). The PLB’s also have an important homing function for rescue aircraft to locate and pinpoint the position once the aircraft is on scene, even if the party are under a tree canopy. We have found, with other devices, the information is delayed and often difficult to locate them without the homing function in rugged country,” he says.

Experienced LandSAR volunteer, Mark Sweeney said “We were able to plot her exact location, so she was told to stay put due to being several kilometres from nearest track. She was fine, in good spirits and not injured. She had the right clothes and food and was well equipped for a day tramp, but not prepared for sleeping out overnight.

“She was annoyed she had forgotten her Distress Beacon and did not take a GPS, although you can’t just reply on GPS either – these can fail due to software problems, low batteries or even wet weather,” he says.

Sergeant Dougall Henderson says “She was very lucky that she got reception for her mobile phone and was able to call 111 after becoming lost. It was just pure luck that she had good mobile phone reception. Remember though, you can never rely on good luck when you are out in the great outdoors.”

The Land Safety Code provides five key steps for enjoying the outdoors, safely:

  • Choose the right trip for you: It pays to learn about the route and make sure you have the skills for it.
  • Understand the weather: It can change fast. Check the forecast and change your plans if needed.
  • Pack warm clothes and extra food: Prepare for bad weather and an unexpected extra night out.
  • Share your plans: Telling a trusted person your trip details. Taking a distress beacon can save your life.
  • Take care of yourself and each other: Eat, drink, rest, and stick with your group and make decisions together.

Beacons are small lightweight devices that can summon help to your location in a life-threatening situation. You can rent or buy a distress beacon and take it with you. You can register your distress beacon at Beacons which is fast, easy, and free to register.

For more helpful information on staying safe in the outdoors you can visit the Mountain Safety Council resources.

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Source:NZ Police

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